Aristide Briand

Aristide Briand

Aristide Briand was born at Nantes, France, on 28th March, 1862. While a law student he developed socialist ideas and after leaving university wrote for Le Peuple, La Lanterne and Petite République.

Briand, became secretary-general of the French Socialist Party in 1901 and the following year was elected to Chamber of Deputies. In 1904 he joined with Jean Jaurés to establish the left-wing newspaper, L'Humanité in 1904.

In 1906 Briand was expelled from the party for accepting office in the coalition government headed by Georges Clemenceau. As minister of public instruction and worship (1906-09) Briand helped to complete the separation of Church and State in France.

In July 1909 Briand became prime minister and horrified his former socialist colleagues when he broke up a railway stoppage by calling up some of the strikers for military service. Briand further upset the left-wing by supporting the extension of compulsory military service. He lost power in November 1910 but returned to office briefly in 1913.

On the outbreak of the First World War Briand became Justice Minister in the French government headed by Rene Viviani. A powerful cabinet figure, Briand advocated French intervention on the Balkan Front and promoted the merits of the socialist general, Maurice Sarrail.

In October 1915, the French president, Raymond Poincare appointed Briand as prime minister. His attempts to establish political control over the military high command ended in failure and he was unable to persuade Joseph Joffre, chief of general staff in the French Army, to change his tactics on the Western Front. However, after French losses at Verdun Briand was able to remove Joffre from power.

Georges Clemenceau, editor of L'Homme Libre, became highly critical of Briand's decision not to persecute pacifists and his refusal to sack his interior minister, Louis Malvy, who favoured a negotiated peace.

Briand backed the Nivelle Offensive and when this failed, the resignation of Hubert Lyautey in November 1917, brought the government down. Briand was now replaced by his long-time rival, Georges Clemenceau, as prime minister.

Briand returned to power in 1921 and as well as being prime minister (1921-22, 1925-26 and 1929) he was also foreign minister between 1925 and 1932. While in this post he put forward the idea of a European Federal Union. He gained support from Edouard Herriot but the idea stimulated little interest and was not taken up by other political leaders.

Briand became a great supporter of international pacifism through the League of Nations. He also championed Franco-German reconciliation and in 1926 shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Gustav Stresemann. Two years later he and Frank. B. Kellogg signed the Kellogg-Briand Pact (Pact of Paris). The treaty outlawed war between France and the United States. The US Senate ratified it in 1929 and over the next few years forty-six nations signed a similar agreement committing themselves to peace.

Aristide Briand died in Paris on 7th March, 1932.

Astride Briand by Viktor Deni (1921)
Astride Briand by Viktor Deni (1921)

Primary Sources

(1) Lord Francis Bertie, the British Ambassador in Paris, wrote to the British government about the situation in France on 21st February 1917.

Briand, though not popular in the Chamber, and though his conduct of affairs is much criticized there, manages to keep himself in office, partly by his Parliamentary skill and his persuasive eloquence, and owing to the non-existence of a suitable successor, and no combination of parties constituting a majority in the Chamber being able to agree on the choice of substitute. Clemenceau, who not very long since was thought of, has from his continual but unreasoning attacks in his newspaper on M. Briand and the authorities generally, and his recent defeat in the Senate, rendered himself impossible. Poincare made advances to him for a reconciliation but was unsuccessful.

(2) Aristide Briand, speech (7th September, 1929)

Among peoples who are geographically grouped together like the peoples of Europe there must exist a sort of federal link. It is this link which I wish to endeavour to establish. Evidently the association will act mainly in the economic sphere. That is the most pressing question. But I am sure also that from a political point of view, and from a social point of view the federal link, without infringing the sovereignty of any of the nations which might take part in such as association, could be beneficial.

(3) Aristide Briand, Memorandum on the Organisation of a Regime of European Federal Union (17th May, 1930)

No one doubts today that the lack of cohesion in the grouping of the material and moral forces of Europe constitutes, practically, the most serious obstacle to the development and efficiency of all political and Juridical institutions on which it is the tendency to base the first attempts for a universal organisation of peace. The very action of the League of Nations, the responsibilities of which are the greater because it is universal might be exposed in Europe to serious obstacles if such breaking-up of territory were not offset, as soon as possible, by a bond of solidarity permitting European nations to at last become conscious of European geographical unity and to effect, within the framework of the League one of those regional understandings which the covenant formally recommended.

This means that the search for a formula of European cooperation in connection with the League of Nations, far from weakening the authority of this latter must and can only tend to strengthen it, for it is closely connected with its aims.

The European organisation contemplated could not oppose any ethnic group, on other continents or in Europe itself, outside of the League of Nations, any more than it could oppose the League of Nations.

The policy of European union to which the search for a first bond of solidarity between European Governments ought to tend, implies in fact a conception absolutely contrary to that which may have determined formerly, in Europe, the formation of customs unions tending to abolish internal customs houses in order to erect on the boundaries of the community a more rigorous barrier against States situated outside of those unions.